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Friday, 5 August 2016

The Importance of Exclusive Breastfeeding: Health of Baby, Mother and Nation

In the days of yore Africans were fully engaged in breastfeeding their newborns so they got the required nutrients and protection from their first diet. Even while growing up as a little child in the village I knew that this practice was almost like a full time career for nursing mothers who diligently fed their babies on breast milk. Some mothers however, due to perhaps lack of a cut out career, overdid the practice such that a little kid could go about playing in the neighbourhood, and suddenly come home to remove his mother’s breast from the bra and begin to suck! It was a common sight.
Proudly breastfeeding
But that was then, when there was so much ignorance and innocence too, as well as the application of native intelligence. Studies have thus proven that breastfeeding is one of the best ways to ensure your baby's health and development. It is a convenient, cost-effective, natural way to feed your baby, and research has also shown that mother’s breast milk contains all the necessary ingredients and food nutrients that nature has perfectly packaged for the all-round development of the growing child.
But somewhere along the line the African in his bid to ape western culture and civilization derailed from their once wholesome dietary lifestyle even as it affects the newborns. We jettisoned (long term) breastfeeding practice and instead adopted infant formulas. Evidences abound that children who were well fed on breast milk have great intelligence as well as high immune system, and sound behavioural traits. As a result today, breastfeeding is widely recommended as the best way of feeding infants by the WHO, and other leading health organisations all over the world.
Exclusive breastfeeding ensures health of baby & mom

And so, healthy mothers have therefore been enjoined to start breastfeeding their babies as soon as they are delivered. In addition, you are also urged to ensure you exclusively breastfeed (no infant formula) your baby for the first six months of life and, if possible, continue until the baby is one year old and beyond. Ideally, solid foods should only be introduced after six months of age. It is rather a funny thing that the western world having tested the bitter side of bringing up babies on infant formulas have ‘repented’ of it, and are now advocating practices that the Africans had earlier practiced, and abandoned.
While most new mothers breastfeed in the weeks following birth (called the early postpartum period), studies show that less than 15 percent continue to nurse exclusively through six months. But the likelihood of breast feeding is even lower among some not so well exposed women, as well as women with lower levels of education such as is common among the Africans as well as people of African descent around the world.
We certainly need more conscious efforts towards advocacy and new initiatives aimed at educating new mothers and their partners, health care professionals and employers about the clear, long-lasting health benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby. And so campaigns are actually ongoing – even in many more parts of Africa and Nigeria, but a lot more still needs to be done and interestingly, the biggest challenge posed seems to be with the ‘educated’ working class/elite mothers of the urban centres. But we just cannot ignore the great health benefits of breastfeeding, and indeed exclusive breast feeding:
Breastfeeding secrets

 According to infant-nutrition expert Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D., a professor of paediatrics and OB-GYN at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, N.Y, "The incidences of pneumonia, colds and viruses are reduced among breastfed babies." It is therefore very evident that breastfeeding as opposed to the use of infant formulas have a huge health and social advantages not only for baby, but also for the mother.

“Women who breastfeed have a lower risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis; when a woman is pregnant and lactating, her body absorbs calcium much more efficiently," Lawrence explains. "So while some bones, particularly those in the spine and hips, may be a bit less dense at weaning, six months later, they are more dense than before pregnancy," she added.

Join the train of happy mothers & breastfed babies

Changes to routine maternity unit practices, including "rooming in" policies, which allow mom and baby to stay together in the hospital, is highly needed as is being encouraged in advanced countries. This will go a long way to encourage mothers who wish to breastfeed, and therefore further enhance the health of our nation at large. 

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